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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

23 July 2008

Message in a Bottle

I cooked khuddi curry the other day. Think it came out quite tasty - but it was definitely different. Different perhaps because the coconut juice came out of a can instead of being grated on a koita like in the olden days. Different perhaps because the garlic, chillies, etc. were not pounded to a paste on an ancient grinding stone but in a modern-day mixer. Different perhaps because the Bottle Masala wasn’t stored in a beer bottle but in an old jam jar…

If you don’t know what Bottle Masala is, don’t read further. OK, I’ll give you the Dummies’ version – it is the cornerstone of East Indian cuisine. And my being an East Indian makes it impossible for me to give you the recipe. You should know by now that we EIs never give out traditional recipes, and ESPECIALLY not for Bottle Masala!

Each EI clan will claim to have the “correct” version of the recipe handed down from generation to generation. So the recipe that the Pereiras of Pali Village have under lock and key will be similar, but not same, to the one that the Gomeses of Bandra Bazaar have, or the Almeidas of Amboli, or the Vessaokars of Bassein. But don’t even think of asking for it; well, maybe on your deathbed. And I wouldn’t trust the East Indian recipe book (with its yellow & black cover) for the secret recipe either; in typical EI fashion, it has left out a vital ingredient – or ten.

My memories of Bottle Masala are as vivid as the blood red Kashmiri chillies laid out on old godris to dry under the hot-hot May sun for days on end. The masala makers would arrive – old ladies with enough strength and stamina to put a stud horse to shame. Nana would give them the chillies along with a myriad (24? 33?? 46??? the exact number is anyone's guess)other ingredients – coriander seeds, khus-khus, jeera, star anise, cloves, etc, etc, etc… All this would be pounded for hours in a wooden mortar that was waist high with a larger-than-life pestle. Thup-thump, thup-thump, thup-thump. Us kids would watch hypnotised by the rhythmic beat, while the spicy scent wafting through the waadi cajoled the adults to have a siesta.

At long last the Bottle Masala was ready. It was first put onto old newspaper and then carefully funnelled into cleaned dark brown beer bottles (Arlem Pilsner perhaps?) for the entire tribe. Hence the name.

Wonder if Caitlyn will even know what Bottle Masala is when she grows up – or if she cares enough to care? Wonder where I’ll get my stash of this red gold from in years to come?

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